Let cameras into courts to see how our justice system really works - Christa Ackroyd

My world is nothing if not varied. And to think I spent half my working life worried that retirement would be dull.

One minute I am on the beach in Norfolk with my grandchildren, the next I am on a train to London to take part in a soon to be released television series from a journalist’s perspective about the impact of being in a relationship with a partner who turns out to be a serial killer.

Crime has always been an interest of mine – and may I add not an unhealthy obsession. There is a difference. My focus has never been on those who commit evil, I couldn’t give a damn about them, but rather the consequences of crime, the trail of destruction left behind from a house burglary with the feelings of violation that ensue, right through to those who have lost loved ones through violence.

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And especially the impact of having lives turned upside down in a single day which often started off as any other, but because of greedy, evil or reckless intent is changed forever.

Christa Ackroyd, former BBC Look North presenter, journalist and broadcaster.Christa Ackroyd, former BBC Look North presenter, journalist and broadcaster.
Christa Ackroyd, former BBC Look North presenter, journalist and broadcaster.

It may be something to do with the fact my father was a police officer. It may be partly because in my day (oh how I swore I would never say that ) almost every crime correspondent was male and so the stories they covered were often about the gruesome nature of the crime rather than those who suffered as a consequence.

I can’t tell you too much until the series is released, but the six cases are split very much between here in this country and America.

And here is something else I never thought I would say, the one thing I things the States has got right is allowing television cameras in court. Not your OJ Simpson-style media frenzy but for the whole gamut of criminal activity.

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I think it would strip away the fear for witnesses who are terrified at the role they are being asked to play and put into practice that well worn phrase, justice has to be seen to be done.

I know the arguments against allowing cameras into court proceedings perpetrated by eminent legal brains far superior to mine. The protection of witnesses who may feel even more intimidated. They do not have to be in vision.

The protection of the jury who have to make a difficult decision having viewed and heard the evidence without fear of reprisal. They should never be shown. It has even been suggested that lawyers may use televised proceedings to exercise an element of ‘showboating’ though I do expect any judge worth his or her salt to put an immediate stop to that with or without the cameras, because it certainly goes on.

But I simply ask this – what is the difference between the centuries old offerings of a court artist depicting the person in the dock by creating chalk sketches, some good, some unrecognisable, and the use of a discreet number of unmanned remotely controlled cameras?

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Either way if every picture tells a story only a moving picture, which is what the world is now used to, can really do that.

The case that has completely changed my opinion or at least made me question why we are not embracing the technology that now dominates our lives is not a court case in America, nor in England but across the border in Scotland where cameras are now allowed in.

It is a shocking story of domestic abuse that led to the murder of a talented lawyer from Leeds, Fawziyah Javid, who was thrown off Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh by her controlling husband whom she was planning to leave. We witness his reactions, throughout. We see and hear from her family and lawyers both prosecuting and defence as the case progresses and more importantly see the reaction of this poor woman’s killer as he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

And that was nothing, no reaction at all. We do not see protected witnesses or the jury. The Push is a brilliant two part documentary on Channel 4. Watch it of your haven’t already. It may change your mind too.

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For two years almost cameras have been allowed in selective cases in England for the judge’s sentencing usually for high profile heinous crimes. With the best will in the world, no matter how powerful and eloquent the presiding judiciary may be, a man or woman in a wig telling us what we already know that criminals are evil is not truly revolutionary nor even justice in action.

To see the reaction on the faces of those being sentenced is to see in stark reality punishment for taking the law into their own hands.

I have been in court many times at exactly that moment and often those found guilty are devoid of remorse and showing not a passing thought to the lives of people destroyed by their actions.

And I want us to all see that, including the parole boards that will later be called upon to decide whether they should be released. I want us all to see the actual face of the perpetrator stripped bare of the mask they created either to commit the crime or to try and evade the consequences. And that is all of us.

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Of course the public gallery is exactly that, and always has been public. Reporters are allowed in with their notebooks to report the case as it develops without deviation and without inference, and to be the eyes of the world.

But those were the rules before moving pictures were even invented and I see no difference whatsoever in extending that to television cameras for a whole host of crimes, providing certain safeguards are in place.

What’s more if the threat of arrest seems to offer little deterrent in our ever increasingly violent world, being truly named and shamed and shown may just add more pressure on those who think it is their right to destroy lives, serve their time and slip back into society with anonymity.

We live in a world where crime is among the most popular form of television programme, whether based on reality or dramatisation.

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But a statement read out often on behalf of the victims outside on the court steps within minutes never gives a true reflection of all that has gone on inside and how a verdict has been reached. To allow cameras in our courts would break down the mystique as to how our legal system operates.

As well as show clearly why anyone is entitled to both a defence as well as face a prosecutor before a decision is reached by a jury.

I am not even suggesting broadcasting live. Those who are innocent would be put through even more anguish, though even then the trauma of being accused of something you haven’t done would be laid bare.

I am also not in favour of everything in our lives becoming fodder for television. People have a right to their privacy. But let the cameras into our courts.

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Let us see the consequences of crime and it’s impact. And let us move into the 21st century in a system which to many is still unfathomable. It is there to protect us all.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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